that no one gives up without a fight
is the miracle
brighter than fire
harder than stones
— Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, Hannukah Stones, from The Aunt Lute Anthology of U.S. Women Writers, 20th Century
Today we remember writer and poet, activist, scholar and teacher, Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz, who passed away this week. A pioneer in women's studies, she taught the first such course at the University of California at Berkeley in Comparative Literature, where she earned her Ph.D. Since then she has taught all over the U.S., twice as a distinguished chair--at Hamilton College and at Brooklyn College/CUNY--and in fields as diverse as Jewish Studies, Women's Studies, Urban Studies, Race Theory, Public Policy, Gender and Queer Studies.
For five years she directed the Queens College/CUNY Worker Education Extension Center in Manhattan which served mostly middle-aged women of color. She also served as founding director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ), an organization whose mission is to fight for racial and economic justice "by advancing systemic changes that result in concrete improvements in people’s everyday lives."
No stranger to activist roles, Melanie had worked in the Harlem Civil Rights Movement as a teenager growing up in Brooklyn. In the 1960s in City College and at UC Berkeley for graduate school she joined emerging feminist and lesbian liberation movements. She also served on the steering committee of the New Jewish Agenda and co-chaired its Task Force on Anti-Semitism and Racism. And in the 1980s she was co-editor of the multicultural lesbian literary and art journal Sinister Wisdom.
"...I am filled with joy knowing how many people she touched. As a friend, as a co-worker, as a teacher, as a writer - an incredible writer - as a sister and comrade and co-conspirator in the struggle for justice and peace, Melanie’s presence was often soft but always strong. Her moral compass was always set in the right direction, and she always had the courage to speak out, to take action, and to bring others along with her."
— Leslie Cagan
Author of Aunt Lute titles My Jewish Face & Other Stories (1990) and The Issue is Power: Essays on Women, Jews, Violence and Resistance (1992), she is also the author of We Speak in Code (Motheroot Publications, 1980) and The Colors of Jews (Indiana University Press 2007). Her writings have been widely published and anthologized.